The new school year brings out anxieties and excitement in me as well. How will my students react to my way of speaking? Will I be able to communicate what I want when I want? Will there be new adults in my building who I have to talk to? How will they treat me? Will I be expected to share what I did over the summer in a faculty meeting? No matter how strongly I believe there is nothing wrong with my voice, these situations will probably always be stressful for me.
I think it’s good to be aware of these anxieties and remember that many of my students will be coming to school feeling the same way. Again this year I will be hosting the ‘collab’ class. This means I will have a number of disabled students in my homeroom and for math as well. Generally these are students with what are called ‘high incidence’ disabilities (learning disabilities, autism, attention deficit and speech and language difficulties). I love these kids and the gifts and variety they add. I will happily continue to host this class as long as they let me.
For the first time since I started teaching, I will have a student who stutters. I'm thrilled! I had an opportunity to spend a little time with him last year so we already have a rapport. Mostly we ate lunch together and played some basketball. Stuttering only came up a few times but I got the sense he didn’t like to talk about it. I might have been the same way at his age. This will be foremost in my mind as I plan out the first few days of school.
What I’m not excited about is the possibility of being asked to keep data on him. I don’t know if this will happen, but I have been asked to keep data on other IEP goals before. An IEP is an individualized education plan and is written by special educators and speech/language pathologists to target certain academic or behavior goals for identified students. Because I am also certified as a special educator I like to have input in writing goals, but I have never had the opportunity to work with an SLP in creating any.
To be honest, I really dislike keeping any data that I don't agree with. I did it last year when I reluctantly assessed all students using timed math fact fluency tests. The district decided that it somehow indicated proficiency if students could rapidly solve math facts. Never mind the fact that virtually everyone in the developed world has access to a calculator. Before we did the test, I reminded my kids that my dad is a doctor and doesn't always remember his multiplication facts and not to feel like this was any reflection on themselves. I also never showed the kids their scores unless they really pressured me.
I just cringe at this type of data collection. I am never going to keep tally marks for how often an autistic student tells me his birthday is coming or how many vocal tics a student with Tourette's makes. This might get me in trouble with my administration, but these goals are distracting and irrelevant. Comments about an upcoming birthday or some random sounds don't bother me or any students, and stifling those behaviors can cause discomfort with the student who feels the need to express them.
I'm not sure data collection itself is harmful to students. I find nothing wrong with setting and reaching goals. There are IEP goals I will gladly work on and keep data for. Math problem solving (i.e. story problems) is my favorite academic goal and if any student has math goals in their IEP, this one should be included. Likewise, behavioral goals that focus on organization also strike me as helpful. Perhaps it's because I am a tidy person, but it seems like organization is a valid thing to teach all students.
Perhaps what needs to change is that the students need to be more involved in setting their own goals: the goals need to reflect the real needs of the student, not a standardized set of data. This might mean goals are not always quantitative. Personally, if I wrote a goal for myself involving stuttering, it wouldn't be that I use prep sets 6/10 times when speaking words that begin with/m/. My goal would be that I had positive feels in 9/10 of my speaking situations. Special Educators and SLPs, in my experience, never write goals like those because they don't know how to measure them. It would take the student keeping track of their own data. But what is wrong with that?
As I head into the new school year the mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety will surely begin to balance out as I get to know my students and get comfortable with the new staff. Right away I will begin working on creating a classroom community that encourages personal growth that is meaningful and relevant to students’ lives. I'm sure I'll find ways to deal with IEP goals I find disagreeable and perhaps I'll come back to tell about it.